First Hemp Crop Planted in Maine; A Step Toward Blocking Federal Prohibition in Effect

AUGUST, Maine (Aug. 22, 2016) – A Maine grower has planted the state’s first hemp crop, ignoring federal prohibition and taking another step toward effectively thwarting the fed’s ban.

According to the Portland Press Herald, Steven Zeno planted an acre of hemp in Monmouth last month. He obtained the seed from a food bank in Colorado, another state that has legalized industrial hemp.

Zeno founded the Maine Hemp Association and initiated a crowdfunding campaign in hopes of raising money to purchase the equipment necessary to harvest and process hemp. He told the Press Herald he hopes farmers will eventually share seeds and machines and produce oil, fuel pellets, protein and plastic.

The Passamaquoddy Tribe has also obtained a permit to cultivate industrial hemp in Maine. Quoddy Hemp Manufacturing LLC spokeswoman Diana Nelson told the Press Herald the company “has obtained seeds from Kentucky and the Passamaquoddy Tribe is researching what kinds of hemp might grow best in northern New England.”

“We’re going to let the plant dictate what industry emerges from it,” she told the paper.

Last summer, the Maine legislature overrode a Gov. LePage’s veto to authorize hemp farming in the state without gaining any federal permission. Rep. Deborah Sanderson (R-Chelsea) sponsored LD-4. She said despite legislative action, the the state has been “very slow” in getting the crop going. Glenn Lane’s late wife was instrumental in grassroots efforts to get the bill introduced. He accused the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry of prolonging the rule-making process. He said the state has not advocated for hemp aggressively enough.

Despite apparent state foot-dragging, the efforts of individuals like Zeno and Passamaquoddy tribal leaders have created a toehold for the fledgling hemp industry in Maine. If Vermont and Colorado serve as any indication, it will ultimately take root and grow.

While a single acre of hemp may not seem all that significant, It’s important to put things into a broader context. The federal government considers all of this illegal. Nevertheless,by simply removing a layer of law – state prohibition – and creating a structure to grow hemp, Maine has kick-started an industry that will undoubtedly continue to grow. As more growers see the economic opportunities in hemp farming, they will take the plunge. This will grow the market further and make federal interference less and less likely. In turn, it will encourage even more investment, creating something of an economic feedback loop.

Recent economic reports suggest that the U.S. market for hemp is at least $600 million per year. Industry observers count as many as 25,000 uses for industrial hemp, including food, cosmetics, plastics and bio-fuel. The U.S. is currently the world’s number-one importer of hemp fiber for various products, with China and Canada acting as the top two exporters in the world.

During World War II, the United States military relied heavily on hemp products, which resulted in the famous campaign and government-produced film, “Hemp for Victory!”.

But, since the enactment of the deplorable federal controlled-substances act in 1970, the Drug Enforcement Agency has prevented the production of hemp within the United States. Many hemp supporters feel that the DEA has been used as an “attack dog” of sorts to prevent competition with major industries where American-grown hemp products would create serious market competition: Cotton, Paper/Lumber, Oil, and others.

“Maine has an opportunity to break into an emerging industry that will be of tremendous benefit to our state,”  Sanderson said after the veto override last year. “Not only would it open new opportunities for farmers, it would also provide local sourcing for many products made from hemp. The fibers from hemp can be used in textiles, paper, insulation, building materials and composites for auto bodies.”

FEDERAL FARM BILL

Early in 2014, President Barack Obama signed a new farm bill into law, which included a provision allowing a handful of states to begin limited research programs growing hemp. The “hemp amendment”

"…allows State Agriculture Departments, colleges and universities to grow hemp, defined as the non-drug oil-seed and fiber varieties of Cannabis, for academic or agricultural research purposes, but it applies only to states where industrial hemp farming is already legal under state law."

In short, current federal law authorizes the farming of hemp – by research institutions only, for research only. Farming for commercial purposes by individuals and businesses remains prohibited. Maine law now ignores federal prohibition and authorizes commercial farming and production anyway.

OTHER STATES

Maine joins with a number of other states – including Colorado, Vermont, Oregon, South Carolina, Connecticut, Maine and North Dakota – simply ignoring federal prohibition and legalizing industrial hemp production within their state borders.

While prospective hemp growers still have to take federal law into consideration, by eliminating the state requirement for federal permission, state hemp legalization clears away a major obstacle to widespread commercial hemp farming within the borders of the state.

Farmers in SE Colorado started harvesting the plant in 2013, and farmers in Vermont began harvesting in 2014, effectively blocking federal restrictions on such agricultural activities. On Feb. 2 of last year, the Oregon hemp industry officially opened for business and one week later, the first license went to a small non-profit group. As more people engage in hemp production and the market grows within these states, more people will become emboldened creating an exponential wave, ultimately thwarting the federal ban in effect.